MANILA, Philippines — Coming soon: A bigger, better and modern Manila Zoo and possibly two more elephants to keep Mali, its most popular resident, company.
This was confirmed by Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada who told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, on Tuesday, that talks were ongoing for a public-private partnership program with investors from Singapore who would spend P2 billion for the project.
“We will modernize the Manila Zoo,” Estrada said as he also announced that the city government had asked the Sri Lankan government for two more elephants.
Estrada said the city government had requested two more elephants from Sri Lanka to serve as Mali’s companions.
“She’s very smart and playful,” said volunteer caretaker John Chua, a veteran photographer who had taken care of the elephant for 12 years now.
Mali was seen filling up her trunk as she was being sprayed with water by a caretaker. Then the 38-year-old elephant would drink the water or squirt it to her body, much to the delight of the visitors of Manila Zoo.
If the water was trained to one of her feet, Mali would lift that foot and let you wash the underside.
Chua said rumors have reached him that Manila Zoo would be bid out and that Mali has been “sold.”
“Mali is Manila’s property. I am not talking about a deed of sale. It means that whatever campaign a group makes about Mali, you will not object,” Chua said.
He said a person from Manila City Hall had said, “Bakit may iba pa sa Peta na gustong bumili?”
Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has been calling for Mali’s transfer to an elephant sanctuary, saying that she is sick and lonely at the zoo. Mali was brought to the Philippines in 1977 as a gift to then First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Reached for comment, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada denied the rumored plan to bid out Manila Zoo and transfer Mali to a sanctuary.
“The direct order from the mayor is to clean up and beautify the zoo to serve Manilans better,” said Albert Dichaves, the newly appointed director of the Manila Parks and Recreation Bureau, after feeding Mali with bananas upon Chua’s directions.
Mali would take a banana using her trunk and when you say “Up!” and raise your arm, she would let you put another banana in her mouth.
“We have plans to renovate and upgrade, to have better enclosures and more wildlife. But as far as privatization is concerned, I don’t think the government will allow that,” Dichaves said.
Dichaves said a blood test has shown Mali in good health, “but she’s old, she is beyond the usual life span and a transfer might stress her out.” He added that Mali’s transfer depended on the mayor’s decision.
Peta has disputed the findings of Thai elephant expert Dr. Nikorn Thongtip who said Mali was in the pink of health and reiterated its call for the elephant’s transfer.
“You will send a person to take pictures when Mali is resting then claim she is lonely. Why not take pictures when she’s interacting? She’s lovable and friendly because she has grown comfortable with humans,” Chua said.
He said Peta has been raising the issue every July, because it’s the end of their fiscal year. He said Mali was being used as a fundraiser, which was denied by Peta, saying only the zoo has been making money off Mali.
“Where were you when she needed you? Have you put even a single banana to feed her?” Chua said, referring to Peta.
He added, “Are you really for the welfare of Mali? Then let’s work together.”
Chua said a Sri Lankan diplomat visited Manila Zoo early this year and promised to donate two more elephants if improvements were made on the enclosure.
He added that in America, three elephants would be the minimum requirement for a zoo to maintain an elephant enclosure.
Peta, however, blocked the donation of two more elephants by writing to the Sri Lankan government, Chua said.